Eggplant and Seafood Fry, Hakata Style

Hakata Ori Agé

Hakata is a city in Fukuoka Prefecture, famous for its obi sashes and kimono cloth woven in a striped pattern. Foods that appear to be striped are often called hakata ori, which means “woven in the Hakata style.” Here the alternating layers of seafood and eggplant form the striped design. I often serve this dish with an American standby such as a fluffy omelet.

Ingredients

  • 4 long, slender Oriental eggplants, about 12 ounces in all, with smooth, bright, blemish-free skin

Seafood Paste

  • 5 ounces scallops
  • 3 ounces scrod, cut into small pieces
  • 2 teaspoons shiro miso (light fermented bean paste)
  • 1 small egg white
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons saké (Japanese rice wine)
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • vegetable oil for deep-frying
  • ½ lemon, cut into wedges
  • soy sauce for dipping, optional

Method

  1. Slice away the stem end of the eggplants, and use the piece to rub the cut edges together in a circular motion. The Japanese believe that this helps to rid eggplant of some of its bitterness; so do I. Rinse the eggplants. Trim off the pointed tips of the eggplants; save these for use in testing the temperature of the oil later. Slice each eggplant lengthwise into three pieces. Lightly score the cut surfaces. Soak these pieces in cold water while preparing the seafood paste.
  2. Place the scallops and scrod in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse/process to blend. Add the bean paste and pulse/process again. Add the egg white and pulse/process to form a smooth paste. Mix the cornstarch with the wine, add the mixture to the seafood paste, and pulse/ process to incorporate well.
  3. Drain the eggplant slices and pat them dry with paper towels. Lightly dust the cut surfaces with a bit of cornstarch. Divide the seafood mixture into eight portions, and with a butter knife, spread a single portion on each of the eight end pieces (one side covered with purple skin, the other side not).
  4. Assemble the eggplants by reconstructing the layers, placing a center slice between two end ones spread with seafood paste.
  5. Heat the oil to about 370 degrees. Test with the tip ends of the eggplants; They should sink ever so slightly, rise immediately, and sizzle on the surface, coloring slowly. Deep-fry the stuffed eggplants, two at a time. Fry for about 3 minutes, turning once or twice during that time. (You can test for doneness by spearing the center with a sharp toothpick; it should come out clean.) Drain the eggplants and cut each into three or four segments, each about 1½ inches long.
  6. Serve three or four segments per portion, with a lemon wedge. Some Japanese prefer to serve fried foods like these with ponzu, a dipping sauce made of equal parts of citron (lemon) juice and soy sauce.

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